Find out what it means to live off-grid, in style, by exploring the earthships of Taos. These other-worldly homes, made from natural and upcycled materials — such as earth-packed tires, aluminum cans, and glass bottles — offer a unique, eye-opening experience into how a home can serve its occupants.
THE MAN BEHIND THE MOVEMENT
“An earthship is a type of architecture that provides everything humans need to survive in that they catch water, passively heat and cool, create their own electricity, contain sewage, and you can grow food out of the contained sewage, and they use natural and repurposed materials. So, those are our six design principles that every building embodies,” said Phil Basehart, master builder and instructor for Earthship Biotecture, headquartered in the Greater World Earthship Community, just 10 minutes west of Taos.
Earthship Biotecture offers several ways to learn about earthships, including tours, nightly and long-term rentals, educational courses, and hands-on construction opportunities. The organization also provides sustainable buildings for residential, commercial, and government use throughout the world.
Earthship Biotecture was developed by Michael Reynolds, the founder and creator of the earthship concept, who came to Taos after graduating from architecture school in 1969.
“He would see on the news that we were having an issue with where to put the level of waste that was accumulating at that time, and he said, ‘Hey, I’m going to build with garbage,’ and everyone laughed at him and thought he was really strange,” said Polina Fateeva, internship coordinator and student housing manager for Earthship Biotecture. “So, he moved to the middle of nowhere and completed his first earthship, called the Hobbit House, in the ‘70s.”
The Hobbit House is located in the Greater World Earthship Community, a 640-acre plot of land developed by Michael to perpetuate the building of earthships. The community currently includes about 60 earthships, but is platted for 130 homes.
Now refurbished, the Hobbit House is one of several earthships available for rent and tours in Taos. However, when it was first built, it did not meet today’s standard six principles of an earthship.
“Every building sees an improvement; it’s a constantly evolving style of building,” Polina explained.
A LEARNING EXPERIENCE
Aside from experiencing the architectural beauty of earthships, booking a tour through Earthship Biotecture is an opportunity to learn the methods behind making an earthship self-sufficient.
Visitors can book a one-hour guided tour or a self-guided tour. The self-guided tour takes place in and around the Earthship Global Visitor Center, a fully functioning earthship. You’ll be able to walk around the greenhouse included in every earthship, watch educational videos, see photographs of thousands of earthships around the world, and view the building’s Water Organizing Module and Power Organizing Module. Then, check out the building’s rain catchment system and the outside of a few other buildings.
With the guided tour, a staff member will briefly explain the history of earthships, walk you through the visitor center, and take you to some of the educational facilities on the property. You’ll also get to tour an earthship.
For the full experience, book a stay in one of the community’s earthships. All rentals have internet and Netflix, a flatscreen TV, refrigeration, a propane oven, cookware, place settings, hot water, and linens.
“The most popular rental that we have is called the Phoenix,” Polina said. “It was designed to sustain four humans fully off-grid. There’s a pond to raise tilapia — there’s a couple turtles in there right now — there are birds, there’s a little earthship chicken coop in the backyard . . . and the greenhouse is pretty huge. It’s kind of the Rolls-Royce of earthships.”
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Earthship Biotecture is NM Safe Certified disinfecting protocols.
“It’s good to come and stay in a nightly rental and get a sense of what it means to walk into a house that’s warm without any mechanical heating in the middle of winter,” Phil said. “That right there pretty much sells everybody. It’s good to get educated on how to maintain an earthship.”
If you’re ready to take your earthship education to the next level, Earthship Biotecture offers academy and internship programs. The month-long Earthship Academy includes classes, labs, tours, and hands-on construction techniques led by top earthship builders, electricians, plumbers, and plant specialists. The internship program is three weeks and involves assisting a crew on a construction site.
“We have applicants, students, and interns from all over the world, from all walks of life, so we’re very open,” Polina said. “It’s a concept which is doable by anyone is the way that we see it . . . anyone can build earthships.”
While in-person courses and internships are still available with extra COVID-19 precautions in place, Earthship Biotecture also offers four online academy sessions each year.
A GROWING TREND
The lure of affordable, sustainable living is increasing in popularity, said Phil, who built his own earthship and multiple others in Taos and around the world.
“I’ve definitely seen, over the past 30 years, much more interest in building earthships,” he said. “It used to be that we’d just build around Taos County and maybe we’d work a little bit more at other places in New Mexico, but then we started to travel to other nearby states.
“I think people are ready to be self-reliant and earthships create self-reliance to a degree,” he added.
Polina, who lives in an earthship in Carson National Forest, said she thoroughly enjoys the off-grid lifestyle. “I find that living in an earthship is incredibly empowering, and it’s a feeling of independence that not everyone has,” she said. “I’m not worried about my bills. If I’m laid off or my hours are reduced, I’m not worried about having my house properly functioning. I’m also really grateful to be in a community where people are open-minded and enjoy this lifestyle every bit as I do. It’s kind of created this new standard for me. I love it. I wouldn’t change it.”
For information about Earthship Biotecture’s tours, rentals, and educational programs, visit earthshipbiotecture.com or call the main office at 575-751-0462.
Written by Alexia Severson | Courtesy photos
Originally published on Neighbors magazine | 2021This article was posted by Olivia